Preparing for the LMSW Exam: Free Association

By Emily Pellegrino on August 9, 2012

Women with a thought bubble above her head Apparently the F's are a little scarse for finding social work terms, so this week we are talking about a lesser discussed term: Free association.  Free association was developed and used by Freud throughout his work in psychoanalysis.  While it's a pretty simple process, it can actually be pretty difficult if you try it yourself! Before I give away too much, let's get started with a sample question so we can gain a better understanding of this term.

Sample Question:

Which of the following BEST describes the process of free association in therapy?

A. The process of temporarily considering a client's interconnected problems as separate entities so that solutions are more manageable

B. The process of clarifying a client's feelings in order to encourage further expression of feelings

C. The process of providing a client with a prompt that allows for specific thoughts or emotions to be expressed

D. The process of encouraging a client to express any thoughts or emotions that come to mind

Many times client's struggle to say what is on there mind.  They may be judging their own thoughts, afraid of being judged, or even just feel uncertain as to what to say.  Free association can be useful because it gives client's the chance to openly express their thoughts and emotions no matter how small or trivial a client may feel they are.  Freud developed this with the idea that by expressing whatever came to one's mind it would allow for unconscious thoughts to become conscious, and thus allows for more insight to be gained. According to The Social Work Dictionary, free association is defined as, "A therapeutic procedure, most commonly used in psychoanalysis and other insight therapies, in which the professional encourages the client to express whatever thoughts or emotions come to mind.  The client verbalizes at length, and the therapist gives no distracting external cues that could influence the material being presented" (Barker, 2003).


The best answer to the question here is D.  A is incorrect because it better fits a process called partialization, which is used to prioritize a client's problems so that a solution can be more easily reached.  B is incorrect because it better defines the use of reflection of content with a client.  Lastly, C is incorrect because by providing a prompt for a client it takes away from client's ability to express whatever thoughts or emotions that come to mind.  Also, the therapist isn't necessarily looking for a specific thought, but rather allowing the client to have free expression.

Coming up next week: Gender roles

Think our straightforward, sensible approach could help you PASS your LMSW exam? If you're preparing for the social work exam, check out our LMSW Study Materials. Learn more about our exam prep at the The Therapist Development Center home page.

Looking for more practice questions and some study tips? Check out our new Social Work Exam Study Guide:

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